Sunday, June 24, 2012

Just Say "Yes"

People have a tendency to look for reasons to justify and validate decisions they have already made. There is nothing wrong with this. In fact it's probably healthier (and safer) than continually looking in the rearview mirror wondering if you did the right thing while your life is moving forward.

I've noticed, for instance, that when new expats relocate in Cuenca they rave about the temperate climate, fresh food, low prices, and all the other virtues of our wonderful city. Fair enough. But the flip side is they tend to go overboard denigrating wherever they came from as further proof that they've made a wise choice.

It's been especially interesting to observe this behavior with folks who were so excited about Cuenca upon arrival, but when they later become disenchanted for whatever reason and move on, find everything wrong with the city they formerly loved and speak glowingly about their next residence, even if they're going back to the same place that formerly sucked.

But focusing on new arrivals, I find the tendency to overly criticize their former country, usually the United States, to be unfair and annoying. Plainly speaking, most of us made a conscious decision to leave for economic reasons. Whether we came to this point because of poor financial decisions or simply being dealt a bad hand in life is irrelevant. Bottom line--things didn't work out as planned and we moved on.

Why as rational grownups can't we just say this? I find it practical, forward thinking, even noble to go so far as relocate to a foreign country to create a better life. That's exactly what our forefathers did, isn't it? Instead I hear too many of my comrades practicing revisionist history and yammering about the US economy, the dilution of personal freedom, the government doing this and that as if these were the reasons for their departure.

Baloney. I'm in the States right now visiting family and am happy to report that the country is doing quite well without us expats. Citizens overall seem to be happy; businesses, stores and restaurants have customers; and while everything is far from perfect, the carnage from the financial tsunami of five years ago has somewhat abated.

Granted, the damage to those of us in middle age is perhaps irreversible. Unemployment remains too high. The uncertainties in Europe may have ugly global consequences.

But I love my country and would have probably never left if I didn't feel like I had to. The sheer abundance here is extraordinary. The efficiency is extraordinary when you experience the difference living abroad. And America's "can do" spirit, while weakened since its founding, is still alive and well.

I salute all of us who have thrown caution to the wind and pushed past the fear of the unknown to abandon the comfort and certainty of the status quo. And I encourage everyone who has done so to take justifiable pride in their actions without feeling the need to rationalize their courageous decision.

Friday, June 8, 2012

What If Money Were No Object?

Awhile back when the biggest lottery in US history was taking place, our son called to tell us he had bought a few tickets. I jokingly said that if he won we hoped he could spare a few million for his poor Ecuadorian parents, and he replied he was sure we could work something out.

The fun conversation later prompted an interesting discussion on the topic, "What would we do differently now if money were no object?." Our conclusions may surprise you, and are much different than they would have been a short two years ago.

The first and most important thing we decided is that we wouldn't leave Cuenca and move back to the States, or even relocate somewhere else. This is not the decision we would have made up to the moment we left Las Vegas, although we most definitely wouldn't have remained there either. Dual career derailments propelled our choice to leave our former lives behind, not an overwhelming urge to move to Cuenca, Ecuador (a place we'd never heard of until we stumbled upon it on the Internet).

No, had substantial money somehow fallen into our lives at that point who knows what path we would have taken. But now, having lived in Cuenca for two years, we find ourselves exceedingly happy and healthy beyond all expectations. So why leave and take our chances somewhere else?

"But what about your family," you might ask, "especially those grandchildren? Why would you continue to live so far away?" Well, to begin with our two children don't live in the same state, so unless we picked one over the other we'd reside someplace different anyway and travel to visit them. Second, always knowing that Vegas was a pit stop on our life's journey we'd had lengthy discussions in the past on where we might go next. No location in the US interested us. Plus we've discovered over time we are "Baby Bear" weather junkies who don't like it too hot or too cold (with a side of low humidity, please), so we already envisioned moving abroad to someplace that met these criteria.

OK, even if we came into tons of money we would remain in Cuenca. Would we buy an awesome penthouse? Heck, no. We live in a wonderful two story penthouse already in a neighborhood we've come to love. We're totally settled and all our stuff fits. Yes, we're renting. So what? We can think of no reason to endure the stress and hassle of moving again just to "own" something.

Our apartment has maid's quarters. Would we hire live-in help? Nah. To do what? We have a maid who comes once a week to clean, which seems like enough to us. We wouldn't want a local to cook for us because we don't want to eat Ecuadorian food every meal. And having someone living upstairs would just be creepy.

What about getting a car? No way. We enjoy all the walking we do and are certain this activity is a major contributor to our increased level of fitness. Keeping it real, though, public bus rides would be replaced with taxis.

So no change in location, residence, domestic help, or even mode of transportation. What would we do differently if money were no object?

On an everyday level, I'd immediately switch to the nicest health club in town. I now bike to the gym closest to our home and while it's "adequate," this is an area of my life where I prefer the best. We would definitely start drinking way better wines. It's painful to see vino from our neighbors Chile and Argentina priced twice as high as the US because of our staggering import taxes. And I'm sure we would eat out more often at nicer restaurants as well.

But the biggest and most important difference would be more travel. Much more travel. First-class travel. One of the primary reasons we moved to Ecuador was to lower our monthly expenses to be able to increase our active traveling while we are still vigorous enough to truly enjoy it. With unlimited resources we'd not only see our family whenever we wanted. We'd also be taking train journeys through India, exploring the Australian outback, and wandering around Europe. For any place in Ecuador we want to experience we'd hire a driver to take us there.

And that's about it. How wonderful to realize we have arrived at a point where pursuit of the almighty dollar and the "things" it can buy no longer dominate our thoughts and actions. We have almost miraculously created a life beyond our dreams without the resources we envisioned would be necessary to do so. The details, like ending up in Cuenca, Ecuador, are somewhat irrelevant.

Now how do we manifest those travel experiences, the remaining missing piece? Because money is an object. Based on what has happened so far the answer appears to be keeping our intention focused on what we want and letting the specifics unfold as they may. So we'll continue doing that and see what happens.

I have absolutely no reason to doubt that in perhaps totally unexpected ways this puzzle will solve itself in good time.